In ants, the lancet liver fluke, (Dicrocoelium dendriticum) forces it’s victims to clime a blade of grass in order to increase the probability of its being eaten by a grazing animal, where it can enter the animal’s liver and continue it’s life cycle. An ant fungus, (Cordyceps unilateralis), similarly invades an ant’s brain to get it to climb a plant and dig it’s mandibles into the underside of a leaf at a specific location. The fungus then kills the ant, and consumes the ant’s soft tissue but structurally fortifies the ant's exoskeleton to ensue it stays securely anchored to the plant. The fungus then sprouts from the ant’s head releasing spores to re-infect new ant’s located below. And the life cycle continues.
The thorny-headed worm, (Acanthocephala), controls the mind of a blue shrimp, Gammarus lacustris. It latches onto the shrimp and changes its chemistry, possibly affecting serotonin levels. The shrimp looses interest in mating and swims dangerously close to the surface. It will bite onto and cling to plants at the water’s surface, which makes it easy prey for hungry ducks. When a ducks eats the shrimp, the thorny-headed worm has found its home. It lays its eggs inside the duck, continuing its life cycle.
A killifish parasite (Euhaplorchis Californiensis) lives in the gut of shorebirds and produces eggs that are released in the bird’s stool which are swallowed by snails and hatch into larva. Eventually, these larva leave the snail and, finding a killifish, enter it through the gills, and makes its way into the brain cavity. There, the parasite will cause the fish to come to the surface, swim in circles, jerk around and display its silvery underside in an attempt to be consumed by a bird. Once the fish is consumed, the parasite lives in the bird’s gut and the process can begin anew.
An example of repeated service to a parasite is a flatworm larva (Leucochloridium Paradoxum) that uses gastropods (snails and slugs) as an intermediate host. The worm in its larval stage, travels into the digestive system of a snail to develop into the next stage, sporocyst. The sporocyst grows into long tubes to form swollen “broodsacs” filled with tens to hundreds of larvae. These broodsacs invade the snail’s tentacle causing a brilliant transformation of the tentacles, into a swollen, pulsating, colorful display that mimics the appearance of a caterpillar or grub. Infected snails then exposed themselves to predators such as birds. This is unlike most other cases of a parasite mimicking food as only a part of the host resembles the target’s prey. The bird may only eat the snail’s antenna containing the larva, in which case the snail, still infected with the parasite, will re-generate the tentacle and the process will continue until the duped snail’s death.
All these biological parasites control the minds of their victims by injecting chemicals into their brains that alter their behavior. Religion does exactly the same but not by injecting chemicals into the brain, but by injecting ‘ideas’ into the brain which then induce the chemical changes, love, fear, guilt, or any zealous reaction that is in the interest of the religion. If a cultural leader were to tell you that the building was on fire, your wife or husband was having an affair, or your baby child was about to die, if you believed him, that would induce massive chemical changes in your brain no different to that of a deviant neurosurgeon.Of course, the host, be it an ant, a cockroach, a fish, or a human, is completely oblivious and, in the case of the human, may actually believe that their actions are in the interest of the individual and it’s community, and not just the reproductive process that the religion imposes for it’s own benefit and survival.
Celibacy – Religion’s Parasitically Induced SurrenderAn ideal example of sacrifice to a religious parasite is celibacy in Catholic priests. Priests willingly commit ‘genetic’ suicide by agreeing to forgo the naturally evolved pleasures of sex as well as the innate desire to reproduce; all in the interest of the Catholic memetic parasite. (However, relatively recent investigations have discovered that sexual gratification was and still is widespread via the rape of young children.)
Catholicism is rare compared to other religious parasites as the reproduction of the individual religious vectors, (a vector is the vehicle of transmission such as a dog or rat in the transmission of rabies, a mosquito for malaria, or sexual intercourse in the case of the HIV virus), such as reverends, pastors, imams, etc. In fact these individuals are known to reproduce more than the social norm as in the case of Warren Jeffs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, currently imprisoned for rape, sex with minors, and incest.
The evolutionary explanation for this is that the Catholic priest vector, not being ‘burdened’ by marriage can dedicate his time to transmission of the virus. Also, the vector’s sacrifice of celibacy contributes to the feeling of awe in the vectors victims and enhances the adhesion due to authority (with the aid of ‘magical powers’ such as transubstantiation).
I’ll be going into more detail and exploring the comparisons between biological and memetic viruses in future posts.